Yoga For JARC

JARC is a non-sectarian, non-profit organization founded in 1969 by a group of parents concerned about the future of their children with developmental disabilities.

Today, JARC is known as a prototype for innovation, high-quality community-based residential and support programs, serving nearly 200 adults in its group homes and various supported independent living arrangements.

In 1998, JARC discovered a need in the community for support services for families who have a child with any disability still at home.  Through the establishment of the Harris Children and Family Division, JARC is able to provide these services to several hundred families.

Yoga By Design funded a yoga program from April through June 2013. Participants ranged in age from 42-82. In addition to traditional breathing and chair yoga postures, the instructor Lisa Lesko experimented along the way.

She found the following to have the most impact:

Sound: The participants loved to make sounds. She introduced "OM" ing (make circles with their fingers and rest them on their laps, inhale together and exhale out the sound 3x); also a cleansing "lions breath" (exhaling with a lot of sound and maybe a funny face); clapping in sun salutations; laughing and stomping their feet in a "laughing bicycle"

Touch: Using touch had a huge impact. The instructor assisted with some of the postures, such as the wrist-flex and dangle pose and would give a shoulder rub at the end of every class. Participants asked for this weekly and touch contributed to the relationship building with the instructor.

Assisting: Two participants expressed an interest in becoming an assistant during the classes.  They sat alongside the instructor and were very excited to help. They demonstrated the poses with the instructor and she would share their input with the class.

Visualization: Participants would get excited about visualizing i.e. picking apples, swimming in a pool, riding a bike, being an airplane.  They would share ideas about what they wanted to visualize next.

Connecting: The instructor continually tried to connect with each participant individually through encouragement and praise. Each woman had their favorite postures and the connecting helped to keep them engaged.

Music: Using lively music was a good addition as it helped participants stay more engaged in the class.  Sometimes the slower music would put people to sleep.

In addition to the reports from the instructor, I spoke with the group home managers of the homes where the participants live.  They reported that the ladies thoroughly enjoyed the class and did not have to be encouraged to attend.  They looked forward to it weekly.  They also reported that the breathing exercises were beneficial as the ladies would practice them outside of class. As a recreational therapist, I believe the multi-sensory approach of this yoga class was the key to its success.  Each participant was able to enjoy and participate in some aspect of the class regardless of their disability.  The class also promoted better posture and body awareness.  I asked 6 of the participants about their experience. They all responded positively but here are a few comments: “I love it,”  “fun,” “want more,” “I like Lisa”.